When you think about going back to work, do you find yourself thinking:
‘how will my partner/children/parents manage without me?’
‘how will I get through all my work on reduced hours?’
‘how will I build relationships in my organisation if I can’t stay late?’
‘how will I keep my clients satisfied if I’m not in the office every day?’
These are all common concerns among women who have taken a break from work and find it hard to envisage working in the way that they used to before. They also often have families which have become accustomed to them being completely available and dedicated to their needs For everyone involved, your desire to return to work means a change to the status quo and, as you are instigating the change, it can leave you feeling ambivalent and guilty about your ‘selfishness’.
One underlying issue is actually that you have spent so many of the years you were on your break not thinking enough about you and have lost the habit of taking care of yourself. If your child leaves their PE kit behind, do you run it to their school? If your mum wants you to meet her for coffee, do you cancel your own plans? Are you responsible for running the whole household? Do you make your children’s packed lunches when they’re perfectly capable of doing so themselves? Do you take on a variety of voluntary jobs that you don’t really enjoy? You may answer yes to all or most of these questions. But what about the question ‘how often do you spend your time doing something you’ve chosen for yourself?’ If your answer is ‘not very often’, my view would be not often enough!
I’m not suggesting, by any means, that you have to put yourself first in every single situation: it’s a question of achieving more of a balance. You need to develop or regain the habit of balancing your needs with those of the people around you, putting down some boundaries and getting comfortable with saying ‘no’.
How might you start to do this?
- Listen to your internal response when you are asked to do something. For example, if your child texts you asking for their PE kit, notice that your automatic reaction might be to drop everything to respond, but PAUSE before you actually respond.
- In the pause, think through the options you have (delivering the PE kit, saying no and sticking to your plans, asking someone else to drop it off) and then make a conscious choice of the action you will take. Sometimes it is helpful to ask yourself is ‘what’s the worst that can happen…?’
- Become used to being less available to those who make demands on you by using some of your time for activities that you would like to do (eg a new hobby, a skills-based voluntary role, planning your job search)
- Make time to work out for yourself what you need to ask from others to make your return to work possible (eg help around the house, emergency childcare back-up, school run rota) and start to have these conversations